Paul wrote some inspiring and beautiful sentiments, such as, “In everything give thanks.” But is that literally realistic?
Paul exhorts us to give thanks in everything. Really? Everything? Christians experience some truly awful, unfair and distressing things. Terminal illnesses. Accidents. Deaths of loved ones. Financial hardships. Trials and temptations of all kinds.
Did Paul mean to give thanks for these things?
The context of “in everything give thanks”
Soon after Paul had established the congregation in Thessalonica, he was driven from town by threats of an angry mob. His first letter to the Thessalonians was written soon after this to answer questions and encourage the young church facing persecution and mourning the loss of members who had died.
Paul set the tone by letting the Thessalonians know that he gave “thanks to God always for you all” (1 Thessalonians 1:2).
Part of Paul’s concluding exhortation included:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:16-18; see also our articles “Four Ways to Find Joy in Trials” and “Pray Without Ceasing”).
Thanks in, not necessarily thanks for
Paul said to give thanks “in everything”—in every situation. That doesn’t mean we must immediately feel gratitude for the bad things that happen to us.
For example, Job blessed God in spite of his terrible trials, not for them (Job 1:13-22).
King David, also, in the midst of feeling overwhelmed with trials (Psalm 69:1-2) still said, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving” (verse 30).
How do we give thanks in everything?
See the eternal benefit of trials
Even our trials can help develop our Christian character, making us more like God and preparing us for our eternal destiny.
Focus on the gifts from the Giver of every good gift
All of the good things we have are ultimately from God, but we can so easily take them for granted in the good times. Paul encourages us to pray with thanksgiving and focus on the positive (Philippians 4:6-8).
And lifting our eyes to focus on our Creator and His future plans for us can help us transcend our current troubles. We can’t fully imagine what wonders God has in store, but His Holy Spirit can help give us a vision of the wonderful future.
God is the Giver of “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17). He wants to give us forgiveness, His Spirit and eternal life (John 3:16-17; Acts 2:38). He wants us to serve the rest of humanity with Him (Revelation 5:10). He wants us to be His children and to experience joy and pleasures forevermore (1 John 3:1-2; Psalm 16:11)!
The ultimate perspective
Paul put things in perspective: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17; see also Romans 8:31-39).
The comparatively short time trials afflict us now is nothing compared to living forever as God’s children!